Technology leaders need to spend time on a daily or weekly basis to keep themselves abreast of new technologies, solutions, and use cases
This is an exclusive interview conducted by the Editor Team of CIO News with PK Gupta, Global CTO, Global Alliances Presales at Dell EMC
How did you plan your career path to be a successful technology leader?
I have a fondness for Star Trek from my childhood. I used to watch it in the late 1970s on black and white TV. I loved all the gadgets, “Beam up Scottie” and the theme. Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before! I also read a book called “Computers at Work” in 1980 and loved the last chapter on the Future Office. My entire family were electrical or civil engineers, but after finishing my 12th grade in 1981, I decided to pursue a Computer Science degree, which included programming on mainframes in FORTRAN and COBOL. Then I started my professional journey as a software engineer in 1985 with an IBM PC and programming in BASICA and Assembly.
What challenges did you face in your career path and how did you overcome them?
After doing software development for a few years, I realised and also received feedback from colleagues that I was good at managing people and sharing knowledge, so I started teaching computers to college students. I also wrote 2 books in the late 80s and then got the opportunity to be a technology people manager in early 1990. It was not an easy transition from being an individual contributor to being a technology leader, but I did get a lot of coaching and mentoring from my bosses. I was very lucky to be given the opportunity to move to the US in mid-1990 to work for IBM and be resident manager for almost 5 years. It was difficult to adjust to life in the United States for the first time. I made some mistakes, learnt from them, read a lot of books on management and improved myself. They had the best people in the team and a family-like culture during that time. When I moved back from the US to India in mid-1995, I got experience in working on various admin, finance, building construction, and general management tasks apart from technology management. That experience opened a new opportunity to join a startup company to manage and grow their India operations. At the same time, I also started doing my distance learning MBA and started teaching MBA students at a university as the Internet was just coming up. It was tough managing so many things at one time, but time management and having a good team, which are complimentary to my skills, helped me to overcome challenges. Towards the end of 2001, I was asked to make the tough decision of closing India’s development centre, moving a few people to the US and letting the rest of them go. As a technology leader, that is one of the most difficult decisions to implement. I think I managed it quite well. All the impacted people are still my good friends after 20 years. That incident also helped me move from R&D to a field-facing role in product marketing and presales. There are many stories to share, like moving to Singapore in 2005, then to the US in 2017, and now back in Singapore this year, but I will stop here for now.
What are the challenges faced by technology leaders today while implementing digital technologies?
Since the beginning of COVID-19, technology has changed at an alarming rate. Every industry is being disrupted by accelerated innovation. Digital disruption and/or transformation are the theme everywhere. IT is no more information technology; it is an industry in transition. The biggest challenge for technology leaders is to keep up with change. How to stay current on new technologies for themselves and their teams? Most companies have technical debt, so the challenge is how to keep the lights on while implementing new technologies.
Data is growing in leaps and bounds, from 66 ZB in 2021 to 175 ZB in 2025. How do we store, protect access, analyse, and monetize this data?
There is a talent war in the market. Great resignation is being talked about. How to keep high performers in the team and provide opportunities for them to learn and grow in their career and motivate them?
How can technology leaders overcome the challenges they face?
Technology leaders need to have a bimodal strategy in these fast-changing market conditions. They need to modernise what they have instead of falling behind in competition and being disrupted by new entrants. We have seen many examples in the past, such as Xerox, Blockbuster, Radio Shack, etc. At the same time, they need to innovate themselves and use innovative technologies to stay ahead. Technologies such as 5G, AI/ML/DL, AR/VR, Edge, Blockchain, Digital Twins, Zero Trust, and Metaverse are in play in every industry.
Technology leaders need to spend time on a daily or weekly basis to keep themselves abreast of new technologies, solutions, and use cases. Think of modernization of IT as a competitive advantage and a must-have thing, instead of a nice to-have. During COVID-19 in the last 2+ years, technology adoption helped us in the biggest way. The leaders who were able to transform their environments from “working from the office” to “working from home” overnight in a very short time, were the winners. Technology leaders need to be flexible, adoptable, and curious.
As we are coming out of the COVID-19 situation, there are lots of job opportunities. World had changed for good especially work environment as people call it “Next Normal”. Hybrid work is here for good. How do we make sure employees are productive, motivated, and engaged in that environment? Technology leaders need to focus on employee experience and connect with them more often than they used to connect pre-Covid. My principal has been “If you take care of your people, they will take care of your customers”. Technology leaders need to have career development plans for each of their team members and provide opportunities to grow in their career.
Any best practices, industry trends, or advice you’d give to fellow technology leaders to help them succeed professionally?
We are living in the world of DANCE (Data, Algorithms, Networks, Cloud, and Extreme Computing). Technology leaders need to understand this word, imbibe it in their day-to-day work life, and focus on outcomes. People are the real asset for leaders. Take care of them and they will help you grow. Invest in yourself; have good mentors, coaches, and sponsors.
Technology leaders need to understand cyber security, privacy, and regulatory and compliance risks. These are board level discussions and are very important for any organisation to keep afloat, resilient and growing.
ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) is a big theme for technology leaders as we look for a more sustainable world. How do we think beyond ourselves, our teams, and give back to the world to make it a better place? As Mahatma Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Also read: Technology is an ever-evolving landscape
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